3,500 miles, 14 states, 2 provinces, lessons learnt: We are not built to do big things alone, we are built to do them together

Today’s been my last full day in NYC, and in America. And I’m a bit sad about it.

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This nearly month trip has been a blast and an inspiration. It’s been a frank reminder that our time is too valuable to let a moment go to waste. We need steal as much life as we can out of each day. And I certainly feel like we have done this every single day for 28 days.

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This is mainly due to my ride-or-die-hommie – Colleen – the driver, who drove over 3,5000 miles around north America (Thanks so much Colleen!). Think driving miss daisy meets velema and louise. we visited 14 USA states and 2 provinces in Canada! I visited 6 whole new places/cities – making my knowledge of certain states that I had already ticked off before – even better! With Pittsburg being one of my favourite new cities to have visited. Must be that steel connection. I love understated, post industrial, arty cities *cough*-sheffield-*cough*

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We drove through the most glorious sunsets, that hung around for an hour in all their pinky, orange and purple gloriness. In the end it was like we were actually chasing the sunsets. The more south and west we went, the longer they hung around, felt like you could touch them and looked like paintings in photos.

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We hardly arrived anywhere on time between each destination, (thanks google maps when we were planning for the lies!) but it just goes to show that it’s the journey that matters, and it was never about the destination anyways (especially given that our destination would be back where we had started). In the wrong turns and google suggested adventures, we discovered uncharted areas, and ghost towns of rich-pasts, farm lands, mountains, kangaroo, gems, moon-views, world wonders, the brightest stars and the clearest skies! endless waffle houses and many a gas-station toilet.

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We saw dinosaurs, ate at 120 year old functioning ice-cream parlours, farms of various sizes including the massive production of milk for the North of the USA. We chased waterfalls, and slept in places that felt like we could be in a horror movie — or places that only a protagonist would be staying in to run away from something in their past. (this was emily’s house BTW – deep in a rainforest in Georgia — she said we wouldn’t find it – and boy-was she right!)

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We got some incredible emily warning ceramics, and colleen booked an AirBnB that looked like it was decorated in 1920’s (& i swear down it could have been haunted, i had to sleep with the light on- C still thinks i’m being dramatic about it- but those who saw my insta-story will know the truth).

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I learnt that Colleen sleep walks and talks (don’t worry, she mostly did this in motels/hotels). We nearly picked up a hitchhiker (he invited himself along and we had to politely decline saying the car was too full of pottery for him to have a seat & we were heading to dinasour world next) He quickly disappeared once he thought that *we* were the weirdos. And I also learnt that Colleen is very opinionated about things including road-side eateries. I want her to start a podcast or youtube channel where people just give her a subject and she’ll rift about how scandal-less or waste of time/money it is, or how amazing it is.

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I learn about a dude called Mr Rodgers and how to be kind to ourselves and others through his teachings (& colleen’s pure love for him). and all things from Pittsburgh.

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My french is still LA-TERRIBLE, c’est very bad. (the only time i sound proper yorkshire is when i speak another language). I was constipated for 3/4 of the whole time here (HA). And i ripped my stitches out of my mouth by accident eating SI Broccli! HA!

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Time Zones confused us often. Did you know Tennessee & Kentucky & Chicago is central zone but parts of Indiana and Ohio is not?! very confusing. Tax across the USA is wild. Chicago was the most expensive. We’ve tried lots of foods, from 10am ice-cream in Columbus, Ohio, to mexican breakfasts in Chicago, to Wah Wah gas station food, the biggest slices of pizza in philly (& the worst greek salad haha), to sweet potato pancakes in the south, chicken & waffles, pirogies of all types, hot dogs, my fav tacos and “water and leaf” soups, oatmeal shakes, piles and piles of freshly prepared dumplings, my fav Chinese- PHU-GEES in NH and beyond. I keep ordering far too much food and don’t learn.

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My Sandy Island adventures got me chasing sunrises, i drank too much and kept Lea up chatting absolute bollocks. It made me fully miss sandy summers. I got to see my crew from over the years including Dave B, and Kate, and Julia. Vanda and I reminisced about our Sydney adventures. and Dani and the crew and I went Northern Lights hunting! It feels so weird and good to have a base there. A place that feels like a home. Like a good Smizz Horcrux. I feel like bits of my soul is in NYC and sandy Island. Who knew New Hampshire would ever be a smizz place?

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I’ve spent a good month being glad for life, surrounded by people who I love, doing what I love, & meeting more new super awesome people. I’ve been shown many true and generous acts of kindness this year – here in the USA and back at home. And I’m completely humbled and for ever grateful for these. Thanks just doesn’t seem to come even close to how i want to say Thank you! to EVERYONE!

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one morning this summer before my trip here – with my mouth in stitches, and appointment sheets for the next abdominal surgery, I burst into tears over breakfast, convinced that this illness had drained me of my creative & living/Smizz abilities. Even in that dark moment, though, I knew that my co-workers & friends wouldn’t let me fail. And it isn’t just picking up the baton when I drop it; they’ve (you’ve) motivated and encouraged me through periods of lucidity to art/live the best I could. I’m so damn lucky.

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I feel that I have a little more understanding of what it means to fall over and feel that you have to get up, no matter what you have to leave behind in the process. This is an easy realization to come to because I’m pretty lucky that I have you -all- the amazing people in my life, who have supported me & helped me to live. Whatever i’ve lost, you make it feel like i’m nearly whole. All I have is that you should appreciate what you’ve got.

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I tend to do these trips when I’m sort of running away from what’s been happening to me. It hurts. But I’ve thought long & hard about what I want out of life. And i want to be here for at least another 5 years.

Today I got to see Alex 1 last time, and the way he talks about leadership & connecting always inspires me and i feel it in the pitt of my stomach. (i can’t wait for his future book). As he says, doctors check for pulses but he checks his people. And that’s what i love about him, and something i’m trying to aim for too. My USA trips are always inspiring me to be better, to commit to my work, to give back to my community. I have some time, and if I use it well. It will be more than enough.

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through all this stuff, I feel like I’ve grown up a second time. I’m broken; But I am alive. I’m coming home to  fix some more gnarly health stuff, but i’m re-charged to finish my PHD, start my new work contracts using arts based research methods in public health and doing research into social detriments and getting rid of these health inequalities as much as we can through ensuring access is made for the people who need these services. and restructing injustice things within policy and beyond. I’m looking forward to really starting to lay the bones down for “REAL “- a business adventure with Helen doing social-justice through creative practice. and lots of stuff in between.

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i’m constantly looking forward to sunsets and bike rides and tacos and getting dirt on my boots and feeling grass between my toes and feeling the calm breeze sweep my face as i drive with the windows down. these are the small, forgettable pieces of life that i think contain all the magic, all the billion little tiny disco ball reflections and retractions of the love and light in this world.

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This life is teaching me that there are golden moments, and the darkness cannot touch them. I’m learning the art of discovering those moments, the ones hiding in hard moments and challenging days. but man.. is it worth it.

Wish me luck! and see y’all later!

I don’t want to waste any more of my time. That’s all: A look back upon my 2015

 

Smizz’s top movies from 2015

So each year I do my top 10 movies. 2015 has been a great year for females. So many strong female-led movies. And it’s about time!

I love going to the movies, i love the anticipation of waiting to see a movie. However, this year I didn’t get much opportunity to see as many arthouse flicks as I would have liked, and this top 10 list reflects that. Now, each movie in my top 10 has a place – for it’s individual reason. So it might not be the *GREATEST* movie of the year, but it certainly achieved something for me in an area such as character development, or dialogue, or cinematography. ect. Sooo wasting no more time.

 

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10.) Mad Max: Fury Road.  Unhinged, high-octane vehicular mayhem. A tough-as-nails postapocalyptic feminist heroine bitingly portrayed by Charlize Theron. (And hey, Tom Hardy was pretty good too as the titular hero.) A crazed ride into a monumental, lightning-etched storm with the pedal all the way to the metal while a war boy howls “Oh, what a day … what a lovely day!” Unforgettable movie moments are made of this. And to think the picture was made by a director in his late 60s. George Miller, you are the (aged) man for the ages.

 

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9.) Carol. A breath-takingly beautiful cinematic journey of a forbidden love. Filmed as if an Edward Hopper painting had sprung to life, its mood washes over you in an evocative mix of opulence and despair as it dizzyingly dances with the forbidden. Some of the best scenes are filmed from the perspective of a person looking through a car window. 2015’s best romance.

 

 

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8.) Tangerine. This movie feels the most 2015. Shot entirely on iPhones and with a budget that wouldn’t cover cab fares on a blockbuster, Sean S. Baker’s indie dramedy makes virtue of necessity. Compelling filmmaking, too, in this Sundance sensation about transgendered sex workers, a pimp, cabbie and angry mother-in-law in lowdown L.A. Doing whatever it takes to make the invisible, visible.

 

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7.) JOY: Joy can be viewed as a modern day rags-to-riches fairytale. It’s Cinderella without the prince. In a way, that’s part of the film’s charm. Sure, there’s preposterous dialogue, but there are also so many electric sequences that made me lean in, smile, & care about a mop. It does give hope showing that no matter how one does struggle in life miracles of success are possible, so don’t read all the bad reviews and assume otherwise.

 

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6.) Steve Jobs. Side-stepping arguements about the accuracy of the biopic, the real achievement here is making cinema out of material that isn’t even a stage play as much as very expensive radio: a battery of dialogue, unbroken by reflective pauses or even, on occasion, the actors drawing breath. The staginess of the movie is its greatest benefit, allowing the characters and the dialogue to shine. Boyle, however, is not a director to be contained in dry rooms, and he allows this theatrical drama to move, via music and editing, into the realm of real cinema. It may be stagey, but make no mistake, it crackles and moves like a motherfucker.

 

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5.) Spy. Now i love a good comedy, but great comedies are hard to come by these days – and I feel like there’s less and less comedies being made due to their hard task. Spy makes making seemless comedies look super easy to make. Feig keeps his Spy machinery cranking so smoothly that nothing said or done feels as outrageous as, in fact, it is. McCarthy is the star of the film, but her willingness to let her fellow actors shine when an opportunity knocks to give the audience a belly-laugh is clear, and it’s the undeniable strength of the supporting cast that makes Spy a strong a film.

 

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4.) AMY. I was taken aback by how well an thoughtful this documentary was made. Watching Kapadia’s film, it is possible to see how badly she was let down by the male figures closest to her. it’s the music that suddenly feels monumental because somewhere in that dark stream of rolling notes and rumbling minors, we can hear the eternal soul of human sadness turned, for a brief moment, into something undeniably beautiful.

 

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3.) Inside Out. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, and it’s one of pixar’s finest. It takes a long walk down an infinite pier of personal identity in,  an animated tour of developmental psychology that captures the pain of growing up using primary colours and Amy Poehler’s voice.  As for visual style, it’s dazzling, flouting CGI’s tendency to photorealism in favour of overt cartoonishness in a 1950s retro vein, together with a refined exploration of light: the emotions are composed of fibrous bundles of luminescence.

 

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2.) 45 Years. An inner drama, taking place inside the characters. There are no heroes or villains in this film. Shot with loving attention to the silent vistas of the English countryside, 45 Years conveys a sense of isolation, of two people being together yet growing apart, a dream that has been shattered, and a lifetime of security undermined by a moment of doubt. It is a thorny subject but beautifully told with gentleness and love. Plus 2 outstounding performances.

 

 

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1.) The Martian. I actually can’t stop thinking about this movie. A fan of the book, I wasn’t sure how the motion picture would compare, and indeed make the main character-likeable. But yeah, there’s flaws. But there was something about The Martian that captured the 12 year old in me. Damon makes the most of this “me time”, engaging our interest, winning our sympathy and teasing our anxieties about his perilous predicament. Whilst the most surprisingly element about this movie was the screenplay.  What makes the movie unique to me was Watney’s optimistic point of view. He believes that he isn’t going to die on Mars, and this transforms this rather depressing situation into something comical instead, engaging us with many self-help survivalist discoveries. But when you really think about it, this is a very personal film about some people coming together to save somebody. That’s it. And in today’s world, it’s nice to hear an story about people coming together to save one of their own. It might take all the romance out of Mars, but substitutes in its place science, cooperation, and human perseverance. PS: You should read the book too – and check out the author’s videos on how everything is correct including the astrophysics!

Shingles for the Singles: There are things you know & don’t

Donald Rumsfeld once said there are things you know and things you don’t. Sometimes you are aware of your ignorance and knowledge, other times you are not. This means that there are known knowns (the knowledge you know you have), known unknowns (your awareness of your blind spots), unknown unknowns (you are oblivious to that knowledge), and unknown knowns (the subconscious—that native knowledge you take for granted).

I use this a lot in art. It’s the thing that guides you. The bits of the subconsciousness shines through. You make decisions without really consciously knowing why you did it, but you know that it’s the right thing to do. But I got to thinking about healthcare in this setting, and in life and living in general. The “gut feelings” when you know something is wrong (or right), how to use empathy, and how you know what choices are the right choices. 

About 3 months ago, I got major bad man-flu, which turned into horrific shoulder side pain, which turned into a crazy now 62 day constant headache, with now a side of Shingles. On top of everything else already going on with me. You guys know where I am if anyone wants me to buy them a lottery ticket. I’ve been having the worlds longest constant headache (i’m so sure it’s a Guinness world record – 62 days and counting). I went back to my GP to tell him it was day 50-something,  with a crazy painful rash (which i thought was either allergic reaction or Bedbugs!)  and the cool GP was like,”Yeah it’s shingles.” I knew what shingles were, like mostly old people get them, but I didn’t really know WHY I got them if they’re not contagious like chicken-pox.  Motherfucking shingles. We high-fived.

From the printout he gave me, I learned that shingles comes out when your immune system is low enough, which is why it’s so dangerous for the elderly. My GP is always saying I’m stressed, or I work too much. I don’t think this, however. I’m now super suspicious that my headache could be shingles related. But how do you know?!

This shit reminds me not to take life and work too seriously. I will be like, remember that time when I ran myself down so much that I nearly gave myself half a numb face for life from the worlds longest headache because Shingles came out. That time i nearly blinded myself with Shingles. Plus, if you didn’t know, Shingles really hurtS, guys!

But here’s the thing, we know stress is bad for us. We know that we shouldn’t take life so seriously, all-of-the-time. But it’s a knowledge we know but never listen to. I get angry with myself, that I’m still feeling shit, that I’m still getting sick, that I’m still taking up peoples time with this stuff. But I hope I will always be frustrated from this stuff, because otherwise I think I’d be missing the point. We don’t know how much time we have been allotted in this world. And it’s an unknowing unknown that should help us to be more knowing about how we use our precious time.

And I tell you all of this, because it  serves as a reminder to myself, but I also hope you can learn from my shingle-ness. Try and be less stressed/run-down so you don’t get unnecessary shingles.

I am completely fascinated with the the levels of what we know and un-know, and I’m going to let this help guide me through things.

This is going to be my first 4 days off – in a long time – in which I will literally be doing nothing & not have the guilt of not doing something like revising for exams (as I worked late to finish a crazy deadline this week). And  you know what, I’m going to enjoy every single minute of not knowing and not having an agenda. And you should too.

 

 

 

 

This much I do know: (reflection on 2012 & life in general)

Intro:

2012 has been a year of awesomeness but a huge steep learning curve for me. Things started off amazing. I got the SITE Gallery Residency, met some awesome people, and I quit Coca-Cola, I still had my bookstore job and things felt good.

But I started to feel really unusually tired, and worn down. I brushed my shoulders off & blamed the no drinking coke thing, started to drink it again to reverse the supposedly effects, and ignored what my body was trying to tell me: that something wasn’t right. I started getting incredible bone ache around my left side of my body-specifically my shoulder, and drenching night-sweats. I lost over 1.5 stones in weight (that I had somehow put on a few months previously) without even trying! I got nosebleeds regularly for no reason, had an enlarged spleen for a while, lost my appetite, lost my get-up-and-go. I kept up with work, and took any opportunity open to me, but I slowly lost my connection with a whole community of people because I couldn’t make it to their exhibition openings and such – as I felt so poorly/tired. Which sucked more than anything.

Great work:

But I carried on working, regardless. Thanks to the amazing Doc/Fest crew, I got another chance at being their resident artist – and they recommended me to draw a TEDx talk in Sheffield, which got me my new part-part time job in London that I started in November!  Drawing a TEDx talk was a dream come true, and continuing to work with Sheffield Doc/Fest is one of the best-things ever.  My role on the Gravity Lecture series at Sheffield Hallam University has grown substantially. And I feel equal to my colleagues, where my ideas are often pushed forward. Which is insanely awesome. Even gaining some teaching opportunities – which I never thought would happen unless I did a PhD.

The “Unifying diagnose”: 

I went back to America to work for the YMCA for my 3rd year in a row. That place is now like family. It was here where people were pretty concerned about my mystery illness that my UK doctor had said was just “probably a mono-style-virus”. They made me see a specialist in haematology & oncology (despite me not wanting to) who told me that “a unifying diagnosis is a lymphoid malignancy”. Yeah, pretty hardcore stuff.

In denial  I carried on ignoring all these signs. Against doctors orders, I continued to work & do our legendary roadtrip from coast to coast in a month. But things became apparent on my roadtrip, that this was probably no virus. I left it until October to go back to my GP with a cough I still have, Taychicardia, & some lumps and all the above symptoms, and 2 months later I started fainting, and getting blinding white spots in the bottom half of my vision, i flunked my field of vision test at the Opticians when my actual vision is fine, and now my immune system is completely compromised. I’ve picked up pretty much everything that’s going around. The naro-virus, I just have to look at someone with a cold and I find myself full of snot. My tongue also looks like i’m diseased and i’ve had a  numb big toe for about 6 weeks now – which i think is in part due to what i’ve been taking medication wise.  It still hasn’t been disproven that I don’t have cancer. But, at least I’m sort of being treated with something at the moment. I  have Christmas off and go back in January for more tests, treatments & hopefully a clearer view.

What it revealed & what I’m learning from it:

This illness, whether as serious as predicted or not so serious, is humbling and extremely revealing – it has forced me to survey my life- perhaps super early than i would have- with an unforgiving eye. There are some shameful, lazy, hurtful, and weak acts in there. Everything I thought was important, suddenly seemed kind of unimportant. Everything I thought was unimportant, became important. I read a book about a guy diagnosed with cancer who said “If I live, who is it that I intend to be?” I read this and found that I too had a lot of growing up to do.

Even now, I was pissed off and taken aback when I went to see my hot GP about 3 weeks ago, about the blinding spots in my vision, who then freaked out  with me for changing my appointment with a specialist because it clashed with a work commission (ironically for the NHS). I said, “But you don’t understand, this is important” (This being Money firstly, and reputation secondly, getting more work thirdly) he said and quite aggressively for a GP, “No, Sarah, I don’t think YOU understand…. You need to put yourself first sometimes.” He was right. I don’t understand. I don’t understand why I’m still not back to normal health, and I still haven’t learnt my lesson that there ARE more IMPORTANT things in life than money, or fitting into what is socially acceptable. Dare I say it, that, you know, MY life/health is important. Reader, YOUR life is especially important.

I didn’t think people even cared about me. Until this year. I’ve witness kindness and amazing generous acts. Even from strangers. A woman who I met in the airport line, scrambled against the line at the end a plane journey to give me her card, told me to keep in touch and offered to do a bone marrow drive in NYC if it turned out I needed one.

But the one thing I am exceptionally grateful and humbled by is my friends. I keep saying it, but this is because i feel like I might have taken them for granted, or not shown them my appreciation until now. Friends are supposed to be there for you in tough times. But these guys are everything and more! They are my mirror back board. I wouldn’t have done ANY health thing if it wasn’t for them telling me to get myself checked out, or the doctor needs to know about this, ect. Even when there are moments of doubt and somewhat fear, they are there.

It made me realize that I need to make more of an effort with keeping in touch or caring about the needs of others. My art or resume won’t keep me warm at night. And if all of that ended, what would I have to show for it?

So here I am, I am trying to make every obstacle an opportunity. Doing something amazing takes so much effort and risk. Trying to fight against the inertia is wicked hard and tiring but it is ultimately the fight that counts. I’m asking myself what is meat and bones important?

I’m still figuring out stuff, but i know i see more beauty now than I ever did, I take care of my body way more now even with limited energy reserves. I try and keep and document my life just incase. It helps me see if this is what I want my life to look like. I know in 2013, I’m going to give back, help others in need. I’m going to work so much harder, I’m going to get up earlier, go to bed earlier, waste less time (harder than it looks!), i’m going to be kinder, I’m going to learn new things, I’m going to try and not let anyone down. i am going to be a better person, a better friend, a better friend to world whilst remembering it is the FIGHT that COUNTS.

 

 

 

 

 

HAPPY SMIZZMAS!

Here’s to wishing everyone a super awesome holiday & to an incredible new year! 2012 has been a phenomenal adventure, in which I discovered what an amazing support network of the most generous & kindest & awesomest friends I have. I’m the luckiest Smizz alive! Thanks guys for making 2012 a winner, and helping me out healthwise. I’m grateful & blessed to have you all.

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